If you’re active on just about any social media platform, you’ve noticed your feed has been transformed into a kaleidoscope of color in honor of Pride Month.
The very first Pride march in New York City was held June 28, 1970, commemorating the 1-year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. Now, flash forward over 50 years: The month-long holiday has been officially recognized by 3 U.S. presidents and countries worldwide, all in celebration of the global LGBTQ+ community.
Wondering where brands fit into this story? It’s a fair question. For the past several years, companies have started inserting themselves into Pride, “rainbow-fying” their online presence in celebration of the month. However, as we’ll learn in just a moment, there’s a big difference between changing your logo for 30 days versus showing authentic, year-round support.
Today, we’re breaking down examples of some of the best corporate Pride campaigns — and how you can ensure your company makes the list next year.
A Brief History Lesson: Carrying the Torch for Cause-Related Marketing
Pride comes in every color under the rainbow, so it makes sense that each campaign won’t look exactly the same. That said, almost every example we’re about to see shares a common theme, separating the good and the great (as well as the not so great): cause-related marketing.
At its most basic, cause-related marketing is a beneficial collaboration between a corporation and a nonprofit designed to promote the former’s sales and the latter’s cause.
Think of it as the ultimate win-win scenario. On one hand, your brand is able to support a cause that means a lot to both your target audience as well as your team members. On the other, you also have an opportunity to demonstrate that not only do you talk the talk, but you most certainly walk the walk when it comes to your values.
American Express first coined the term cause-related marketing in 1983 to describe its campaign to raise money for the Statue of Liberty’s restoration, as reported by The New York Times. The company donated 1 cent to the restoration every time someone used its charge card, raising over $1.7 million for the Restoration Fund — boosting card usage by 27% and seeing a 45% increase in applications the year following.
39 years after American Express’ first trial run, cause-related marketing is still a mainstay for modern brands. However, with today’s savvy consumers, understanding how to execute this strategy while still remaining authentic and genuine is more important than ever before.
5 Examples of Well-Done Pride Campaigns
Now, there’s no documented instance of the first company to do Pride “right.” Business-to-consumer (B2C) brands like Subaru and Absolut Vodka have had a long and storied history within the LGBTQ+ community starting as early as the 1980s. As consciousness shoppers, we’ve grown accustomed to — if not weary of — an uptick in rainbow-themed products throughout the month of Pride (also known as rainbow capitalism).
The good news is that increasingly, marketers are learning from their predecessors’ past mistakes. Within the past decade, more and more brands have been joining Pride for all of the right reasons — and not just jumping on the bandwagon.
As we recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of the LGBTQ+ community this June, let’s explore the companies that truly are setting the example for those to follow:
1. AKQA and West Pride’s “Ambassadors of Pride.”
Walking the aisles of the grocery store this month, you’ve likely seen dozens of products swap their standard packaging in favor of a Pride-inspired, rainbow color scheme. However, some of the most memorable (and meaningful) campaigns don’t rely on neon gimmicks to make an impact. Case in point: AKQA and West Pride’s “Ambassadors of Pride.”
Based in San Francisco, the digital design agency AKQA has partnered with the Swedish non-profit organization West Pride in a campaign called “Ambassadors of Pride.”
The goal of “Ambassadors of Pride” is to raise awareness for the LGBTQ+ people currently moving through what can only be described as the labyrinthine asylum process in Sweden. The campaign highlights 6 asylum seekers — all of whom remain totally anonymous — as they describe the hardships they faced in their home countries and the factors that have forced them to pursue Swedish asylum.
As Muse writes, West Pride not only appointed the 6 refugees with honorary titles to “tout their assimilation into Swedish society” and strengthen their cases for asylum, but the organization is also working with AKQA to provide them with legal counsel and is leading the charge on a petition demanding immigration reform.
“The main goal is to stop more LGBTQ refugees from wrongly being sent back to persecution or death,” explained AKQA senior creative, Simon Magnusson. “How we achieve that for these 6 ambassadors could be via immediate public awareness and outrage, and then in a wider and more long-term sense we also hope to effect change in legislation and immigration policies.”
2. Tinder and the Human Rights Campaign Work To End Discriminatory Blood Donor Policies
One of the most unlikely brands setting the bar for Pride this year is the mobile dating app, Tinder.
Because of an outdated Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policy implemented at the height of the 1980s HIV/AIDS crisis, many LGBTQ+ men have effectively been barred from donating blood. As the app’s chief executive, Renate Nyborg, explained in her recent op-ed, the ban no longer makes sense in light of widespread advances in HIV/AIDS prevention, detection and treatment. However, organizations that collect blood like the Red Cross are still forced to adhere to this policy, preventing would-be donors from giving blood that researchers estimate could treat over a million people.
This month, the dating app and the HRC will raise awareness and encourage eligible individuals to participate in the Advance Study, which is designed to implement a more inclusive policy. Those who would like to participate can swipe right on an “All Types” Pride card in the Tinder app.
Although the partnership may initially not seem that intuitive, Nyborg’s official statement demonstrates how a brand can easily apply its core values to a bigger purpose:
“As the leader of a company built on the magic of human connection, it confounds me that people who desire to help those in need are held back by prejudiced policies. Through our work with the Human Rights Campaign, I have come to understand how I can use my platform as CEO to help effect change.”
3. Celebrating Year-Round Pride at IBM
Even as more and more leaders place a priority on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives, most brands’ Pride celebrations are still kept within the confines of the 30 days of June.
At IBM, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
IBM has participated in HRC’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI) since its inception in 2002. And, not only has the company received a perfect 100 score, but it has also been honored as being recognized as a leading “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality” since 2003. However, accolades like this don’t just come from a month-long campaign.
IBM has a long history of championing the LGBTQ+ community both in and out of the workplace, partnering with dozens of non-profit organizations for research projects, fundraising events and the development of ongoing LGBTQ+ resources. As Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Tia Silas told Glassdoor in 2020:
“As early as 1984, [IBM] included sexual orientation in our non-discrimination policy. We continue promoting and defending LGBT+ rights around the world and actively influenced legislation and policy in Louisiana, North Carolina, and Texas. And over the past year, we have engaged in countries such as Northern Ireland, Taiwan, Israel and Japan to support marriage equality referendums.”
For Pride this year, IBM is simply carrying on with what they do 365 days a year. Rather than a one-and-done initiative, June is seen as another opportunity to recognize and celebrate diversity within the company, highlighting these stories across all of IBM’s social media channels. And, although the tech company isn’t one for tooting its own horn when it comes to Pride, a quick skim of the IBM website shows just how deep its inclusive values run year-round.
4. Skittles: A Colorful Comeback Story
Not every Pride campaign is going to be perfect. Take for example Mars’ now infamous attempt from 2017, featuring an all-white version of the candy company’s bestseller, Skittles.
In honor of Pride, Skittles, the official “taste the rainbow” candies, dropped its signature color palette in favor of an all-white appearance. As the message on the back of the limited-edition bag put it, “During Pride, only one rainbow matters. So we’ve given up ours to show support.”
Well-intentioned? Definitely. Well-executed? Well, that’s a longer answer.
As reported by Time, some found the brand’s Pride campaign “inadvertently tone-deaf,” whereas others believed it was a subversive and fun idea in a sea full of rainbow products. Regardless, the team at Skittles knew they needed to think outside of the box moving forward.
The company is offering its limited-edition, all-white Skittles once again this year, however the packaging features a much more meaningful twist. Each pack of candy is adorned with unique designs from LGBTQ+ artists. Additionally, the packaging includes a QR code that leads shoppers to a virtual studio where they can learn more about the artists, their work and the inspiration behind their illustration. And, for every Pride pack purchased, $1 will be donated to GLAAD’s culture-changing work and programs, including its ongoing efforts to accelerate acceptance and combat anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination.
“At Mars, we believe that in the world we want tomorrow society is inclusive. The Skittles brand, which is a proud part of Mars, is committed to advocating for the LGBTQ+ community both within our own organization and throughout the world,” said Justin Hollyn-Taub, Senior Director, Mars Wrigley. “While Pride Month is a time to reflect, self-educate and celebrate, we know that long-term sustained support and allyship is key in building a more inclusive and diverse society.”
5. Pfizer: Thrive with Pride
While many brands are newcomers to all things Pride Month, Pfizer has been committed to the cause for over 16 years.
Since 2006, the pharmaceutical company has published its “Pride Journal,” a platform where LGBTQ+ Pfizer Colleagues and allies can share personal experiences of struggles, triumph and their hope for the future in honor of Pride Month.
Although the Pride Journal is public for all who are interested, the campaign is focused more directly on Pfizer’s internal audience, a major difference between its efforts and many other brands. While it can be tempting to dive headfirst into a fun, flashy and cause-related marketing campaign, sometimes the most powerful actions your brand takes during Pride start within your own 4 walls.
Showing Your Brands’ True Colors: Considerations for Your Pride Campaign
Stop me if this one sounds familiar: After showing off their support for Pride all June long, the clock strikes midnight on July 1 and suddenly, all of these loud and proud brands have reverted to business as usual.
As Forbes reports, the LGBTQ+ community has an estimated combined buying power of $3.7 trillion. Yes, you read that correctly; trillion with a “t.” For better or for worse, this has inspired many businesses to slap a rainbow flag on their social media channels during Pride — most of whom promptly forget about the community as soon as July rolls around.
Today’s consumers are savvy. It only takes one glance for them to easily distinguish between brands that are authentic partners in the fight for equality (like those above) versus ones that are just trying to make a quick buck (think back to the rainbow-adorned grocery shelves). As we learned today, it’s essential to make it clear that your support of the LGBTQ+ community is not limited to just one month.
Whether you’re planning a Pride campaign for next year or are looking to take a more inclusive approach to your year-round marketing strategy, consider these tips:
- Bring representation into the meeting: If there isn’t a member of the LGBTQ+ community within your own team, it’s time to take a step back. Consider why that is, and how your company can leverage examples like Pfizer to better champion underrepresented voices within your organization.
- Partner with LGBTQ+ organizations: Your brand doesn’t have to go it alone. In fact, partnering with an existing organization and helping them to elevate their own platform can be far more powerful than building one of your own. Think like Tinder: Reflect on your company’s own values and look for causes that overlap with your overarching mission.
- Work toward real change: Whether it’s lobbying for a change in legislation, raising funds for a cause your team believes in or creating a platform for the LGBTQ+ community, think about the impact of your campaign. As we saw with Skittles, your actions will mean far more than the message.
Remember: The worst thing you can do this Pride is simply throw a colorful filter on your logo and call it a day. Instead, bring the same careful attention to detail you would to any marketing campaign. Consider your company’s values and how you can bring them to life through meaningful action. And, most importantly, don’t shed all of your rainbows come July 1.